July 02, 2018

Vardy up front for England v France?

Fenland storytelling combo the Penland Phezants are conjuring up the spirit of '66 as their Hereward the Wake tour comes to All Saints Church Fring (9 July) and the Ely Folk Festival (July 14) next week.

That's 1066 and the English defeat at Hastings, folks, not the 1966 victory at Wembley, but there are hopeful parallels across (almost) a thousand years.

The title song - https://soundcloud.com/gaz29-1/for-the-soul-of-england-by-the-penland-phezants

Herwardi Saxonis (Hereward the Saxon)  - 'Vardy' for short - is the original English underdog who won his day, in the wake of a crushing English defeat that seemed like the end of the world at the time. 

As every English schoolchild knows, after an exhausting victory at Stamford Bridge in 1066, King Harold, the last Saxon king of England, fought bravely and his defenders were well on top at Hastings until tactically outwitted.  Harold's Saxons thought they had won the game when the Norman French dropped deep into their own half only to be caught by a devastating counter attack. A speculative arrow through the air into the penalty area hit Harold in the eye and the rest (including Saxon England as we knew it) is history.

Hereward (of Bourne in Lincolnshire) was in Belgium at the time - adding to his international reputation as a brilliant mercenary general - but returned in September 1067 to join and swiftly to lead the growing English resistance to William the Conqueror's harrowing invasion. Hereward did so most famously at Ely, leading a solid defensive formation of mighty Saxon warriors and monks and Danish diehards, all secure in local knowledge and the impregnable native fen and forest, soaking up wave after wave of attack on a waterlogged fenland pitch, then catching those offensive Normans napping on the break. Not even the services of a French witch deployed on a wooden tower could shift Hereward and his men from their fastness and the Conqueror was losing heavily and on the verge of giving up when, alas, the Abbot of Ely betrayed the secret paths through the fens to the invaders.

One loyal monk warned Hereward just in time and the great Saxon hero escaped with his men to fight (and win) many another day - in a series of madcap adventures in the greenwoods of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Warwickshire, and at Peterborough Abbey, many of which are the real originals of Robin Hood legend.

The 'overdog' Norman conquerors brought many positives into English culture but love of the underdog was not one of them. Our  enduring love of an underdog defying the odds plus the sturdy survival of English rather than Norman French as our national language can both be traced to Hereward's timely resistance.

The Penland Phezants  90 minute musical show "A Very English Resistance: The True Story of Hereward the Wake" words written and narrated by poet Gareth Calway, music by Andy Wall and Vanessa Wood Davies, the whole performed by the trio on guitar, harp and drum, plays Fring and Ely Folk Festival as the World Cup enters its Final week. If France and England are still contenders by then, it might make an interesting replay!  

Advance tickets for Fring here http://www.wegottickets.com/event/443249
 or on the door. £10 incl. glass of wine/ light refreshments.
Ely Folk Festival bookings -http://elyfolkfestival.co.uk/tickets/

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